Friday, 31 December 2010

Best poetry of 2010

Trawling back through the blog archives for the year, and picking my way through my bookshelves (well, and several piles of books as yet unshelved), I've come to the conclusion that I read an awful lot of good poetry in 2010. Not all of it was necessarily published this year - I think several of the volumes I'll mention probably came out at the tail-end of 2009.

Having said that, I don't seem to have read that many of the collections that gained most column inches. I did enjoy Philip Gross's TS Eliot Prize-winning The Water Table, although I'm not sure it was necessarily superior to several previous books by a consistently fine (but low-profile) mainstream poet.

Towards the end of the year, David Morley's Enchantment justifiably gained all sorts of plaudits - I've still not had time to digest it fully, and I'll be posting a full review once I do, but its packed with both superb storytelling and sparkling use of language. And a little earlier in the year, John Ash's In The Wake Of The Day was well up to the high standards of his previous work. I thought there was a more direct political edge than has often been the case in the past, too - a welcome development.

I suspect that might be something we see a lot more of over the next few years. Certainly it was a feature of George Ttoouli's excellent Static Exile, while Mark Goodwin's Shod was a welcome example of poetry trying to engage with social issues, albeit in an enjoyably inventive way.

Simon Turner's Difficult Second Album was an absolute pleasure, full of quiet innovation and wit, while Tony Williams' debut The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street deserved all the praise it got, adding some subtle European influences to a mainstream template, something that could also be said of Helen Ivory's The Breakfast Machine, which conjured a nightmarish atmsophere seemingly from nowhere. Damian Walford Davies' Suit Of Lights should have got far more attention, and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Other collections worthy of note were Kona Macphee's eclectic Perfect Blue, Simon Perril's Nitrate (as good a themed collection as I can think of), and David Briggs' The Method Men. At the moment, I'm enjoying thoroughly digesting Gill McEvoy's The Plucking Shed, and Helena Nelson's long-awaited Plot and Counter-plot. Oh, and CJ Allen's e-chapbook Lemonade was a treat from another small press stalwart who really ought to be far more widely read.

I continued to work my way through Michael Haslam's past work with surprise and delight, and I've also liked Robert Hass's The Apple Trees At Olema: New and Selected Poems. Some of it doesn't hit the mark, but there's a lot there to appreciate.

Last, but certainly not least, there was Martin Figura's Whistle. The subject matter is harrowing and heart-breaking in equal measure, yet the end result is a collection that's genuinely uplifting and (this actually makes you feel guilty, at first) hugely enjoyable. It's a genuine poetry page-turner, but for all the right reasons, with Figura's precise, restrained telling of a story of family tragedy deserving great praise.

I may well have missed one or two other favourites, and as I said, it seemed a strong year all round. Here's hoping that 2011's even better.

New Year birding resolutions

A few months ago, I decided I wasn't going to keep a county or patch list in 2011, and instead would try to stick very close to home. I also thought it might be a good idea to try to record and map a handful of individual species along the way, and while travelling to and from work. So, my three birding resolutions for 2011 are as follows:

1. To list only those species that I see within walking distance of home. Realistically, that's going to mean Charnwood Lodge LRWT, Bardon Hill, Blackbrook Reservoir, Snibston Discovery Park, and the various bits of National Forest land along the Coalville bypass, plus non-reserve land like Cademan Woods. I might walk as far as Kelham Bridge, at a pinch. It'll save petrol, and shift some of this weight, if nothing else!

2. To religiously record sightings of the following species whenever I'm out and about in the county - Buzzard and Kestrel (I'd like to get an idea of whether the former really is becoming more common), and Yellowhammer and Linnet (two of my favourite farmland birds). This will include looking for sites where breeding can be proved.

3. To look for some genuine rarities in NW Leicestershire and Charnwood Forest. Back in November, John Hague suggested that the Forest, including Charnwood Lodge, would be a good place to find Great Grey Shrike, so that might be one of the more likely possibilities.

Of course, all this doesn't mean I won't be doing some birdwatching elsewhere too. Quite apart from anything else, I have to do quite a bit of driving for work, so I'll still drop in at places like Cossington Meadows, Swithland Reservoir, Eyebrook Reservoir and Rutland Water as and when I'm passing.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Birds on the move

The Big Freeze (or winter, as we used to call it) goes on, and as always the cold weather has brought some interesting bird movements.

We haven't done too badly in the East Mislands this past week. It's been very cold (-14C when I came out of the house yesterday morning), but we've only had a thin covering of snow, so perhaps we're getting refugees from the parts of the UK that have been badly affected.

On Sunday, there were Waxwings in the car-parks of both Lidl and Aldi in Coalville (they show a refreshing willingness to shop around), and there are still plenty of berries left in that area, and along the bypass, so they'll probably stay for a while yet.

The previous day, I popped round to my parents' house, and they had both Fieldfares and Redwings in the garden (a first), along with a Treecreeper. I think the latter - which was also a first - was probably tagging along with a mixed tit flock, and there were also good numbers of finches. These included quite a lot of Greenfinches, which have been conspicuous by their absence for the last couple of years.

Finally, on the way into work the last couple of days, I've seen really large numbers of Blackbirds feeding in a hedge alongside the A47 between Uppingham and Glaston (you have to slow right down because they keep doing their kamikaze dash just in front of the car). There's been a few Redwings and Fieldfares among them, too, but I'd guess this is an influx of Blackbirds from elsewhere in the UK, or the Continent.

Lark and Merlin

Loved this Tom Pickard poem recently posted over at the Poetry Foundation website - there's a link at the bottom to a Q&A with Pickard, too.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Litter - new issue

The latest issue of online poetry magazine Litter has gone live, and features a review of Kelvin Corcoran's new Shearsman book, Hotel Shadow, alongside poetry from Kathleen Bell, Adrian Buckner, Peter Dent, Rupert Loydell, Simon Perril, John Welch and myself (my featured poems are Kilter and Leland's New Year Gift To The King, 1546, both from hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica).

Litter editor Alan Baker also has some kind words to say about last Monday's Shindig at his always excellent Litterbug blog here.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Reader

Issue 40 of The Reader arrived the other day, containing an interview with film-maker Terence Davies, an essay on Kipling by Michael Schmidt, and poetry by the likes of Blake Morrison and Peter Robinson. I've got a couple of poems in there too.

The Readers Connect section focuses on Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson, while in the Your Recommendations feature, Sarah Coley talks about our old friend Michael Drayton's Since There's No Help. As you can imagine, it's a particular pleasure to find myself in the same publication as Polesworth's most famous son.

Thursday, 16 December 2010


hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica is one of the nominations for the East Midlands Book Award 2010, alongside poets such as Mark Goodwin (nominated for both his Nine Arches Press and Shearsman volumes), Deborah Tyler-Bennett, John Gallas and Maxine Linnell. It's also a pleasure and an honour to be on any list with Jon McGregor.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Fracas at the WACA

OK, I admit it, I've always wanted to use that headline, ever since it appeared in one of the Australian papers back in the early 80s after Dennis Lillee's arse-kicking/bat-swinging contest with Javed Miandad (as a Glamorgan supporter, my sympathies were with the little Pakistani, who in those days pretty much carried the county single-handed).

Anyway, the early hours of tomorrow morning see England and Australia resume battle at the WACA in Perth, and the first day could well decide the destination of the Ashes. The momentum of the series is so heavily in England's favour at the moment that a good start here might be enough to cause a fragile Aussie side to fly apart at the seams. On the other hand, should England bat first and collapse, as they have many times in the past at this ground, Australia have the potential to get right back into this series.

That's because these sides are nowhere near as far apart as they've looked at times. I'm not taking anything away from England, who have been excellent, or ignoring the dreadful form many of the Aussies have shown (the bowling at Adelaide was embarrassingly bad at times). I just think that a decent injection of confidence into the home side would soon have most of their strugglers looking what they really are - Test cricketers. There are exceptions. I can't see the selection of Beer as anything other than a panic measure (Nathan Hauritz would have been doing a good job as a stock bowler), and even if Mitchell Johnson gets it right here, he's just as likely to lose form again by next time out, because the basic flaws in his action haven't been addressed.

I think both captains wouldn't mind losing the toss too much. Perth's no longer the fast bowlers' paradise it used to be, when the pitch behaved like crazy paving on top of industrial strength trampolines, but it's likely to offer a bit to the seamers early on. England might fancy testing a nervous and rather thin looking Aussie batting line-up on it, while Ricky Ponting might feel his best chance is to go with four seamers and get into England early on. Neither captain, though, is the type to gamble*, so I think both would settle for ending up bowling as the result of the other's decision.

England do have a poor record at Perth, but then they have a poor record at most Aussie grounds in recent years, on account of having played against some great Aussie sides, so I'm not sure that's of much relevance. I back them to win fairly narrowly here, thanks to in-form batsmen and the trump card that is Graeme Swann, but it's going to be a sleepless few days.

* Let's face it, Ponting probably still wakes up in a cold sweat at the memory of putting England in at Edgbaston in 2005 and watching them rack up 400 on the first day.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Launched (again)

I've been pretty tardy in posting lately, and time's very short once again, so just a few words about last night's Nine Arches Press Shindig at The Looking Glass.

There was an excellent, varied line-up of readers, with great stuff from Marilyn Ricci, Alan Baker and Malcolm Dewhirst, as well as some really good open mic spots (enjoyed Jonathan Taylor's short story a lot - I hope we hear more short stories at open mics in the future). I thought I might struggle a bit with my voice, because I've been coughing non-stop for days, but it held out OK, and all went well.

It wasn't as well attended as most of the Shindigs have been, but I'd guess that might have had something to do with the time of year. There also sounded like there was a Wild West saloon brawl going on upstairs throughout large parts of the evening, but we emerged back into the main bar to find it as clam as ever!

Anyway, I'll be trying to post more regularly over the next few days - expect something on the recent Birds, Nature and Creativity symposium, new poetry mags, and some end of year round-ups.

PS. Setlist (from memory) was:
Prelude for Glass Harmonica
Worst Case Scenario
from 'Tesserae'
Warning Against Using These Poems As A Map
Fantasia for Glass Harmonica
West Leicester Lullaby
In St Martin's Square

Monday, 13 December 2010

Leicester launch

If you're anywhere near Braunstone Gate in Leicester tonight, you might want to drop in at The Looking Glass for the local launch of my new book, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica.

It's part of the last Nine Arches Press Shindig of 2010. Readings start at 7.30pm, and entry is free, and as usual there'll be plenty of open mic slots available - sign up on the door if you're interested.

There’ll also be readings from Alan Baker (who as well as being a fine poet with a new book forthcoming from Skysill Press is the founder and co-editor of Leafe Press, and editor of Litter), Marilyn Ricci (whose excellent HappenStance pamphlet Rebuilding A Number 39 was published in 2008), and Malcolm Dewhirst (Tamworth-based poet, writer and filmmaker, who project manages Polesworth’s Poets Trail).

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Surprise sighting

Because our office is right on the edge of the city, between the A1 and Ferry Meadows, I rarely go into Peterborough itself. Today, though I had to, so drove round and parked in the street behind the bowling alley, close to the Passport Office.

As I got out of the car, a Woodcock flashed past about half a dozen yards away, disappearing between buildings towards a nearby park. I just had time to see the rusty tail and the long bill before it went out of sight.

Peterborough's a city in which it's pretty hard to get very far from green open spaces, so after the permafrost conditions of the last week, it probably shouldn't be too much of a surprise to find one taking advantage of the higher temperatures (and softer ground) in a city centre park. What was baffling was trying to work out where it had come from immediately before - it seemed to materialise out of a brick wall!

My Birds Britannica tells me that Michael Drayton, guiding spirit of this blog, referred to the bird as "witlesse", but if this one really was beating the freeze by joining the Black-headed Gulls on the local park, he seems to have been way off the mark.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Leicester Shindig and book launch

Just a quick reminder that next Monday (13th December), is the Leicester launch of my new book, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica, at the last Nine Arches Press Shindig of 2010 at the Looking Glass, 68-70 Braunstone Gate. Readings start at 7.30pm, and entry is free.

There’ll also be readings from Alan Baker (who as well as being a fine poet with a new book forthcoming from Skysill Press is the founder and co-editor of Leafe Press, and editor of Litter), Marilyn Ricci (whose excellent HappenStance pamphlet Rebuilding A Number 39 was published in 2008), and Malcolm Dewhirst (Tamworth-based poet, writer and filmmaker, who project manages Polesworth’s Poets Trail).

As always, there’ll be plenty of open mic slots available, so sign up on the door if you’d like to take part.